Monthly Archives: September 2011

One of the cool things about changing schools is getting a taste of local cuisine from one of the prominent cultures of the school community. When I was at Ceduna, it was getting a taste of cooked-in-coals wombat (a local Aboriginal food) and having a parent of Greek background cook yiros for our class party here a couple of years ago when I was still at Lockleys North.

So, the latest culinary discovery for me at my new school is Banh Mi, commonly and simply known in that part of Adelaide as Vietnamese Meat Rolls. Many of the teachers are really into them, many of the students have them daily as their lunch and they are really great value for money. I had one today with barbecue pork for $4.50 and it filled me up just as much as a foot long Subway sandwich at more than double the price. Typically, the roll has the meat, sliced cucumber and pickled carrots strips with either a buttery mayonnaise or chilli paste on the bottom and sliced chillis for that extra flavour hit. Some venues add in radish strips or shredded lettuce. So far over the last two months I've tried about four different venues around the school's neighbourhood - this link gives a good explanation of the roll's origin. So, if you are ever in the Hanson Road area in Adelaide, drop into one of these shops and give Banh Mi a try.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/lastappetite/2488688389/

 

 

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As part of the journey of establishing  and implementing our school improvement plan as a brand new school, we have a school closure day planned for this Friday. We'll be discussing this article as part of the day to help with getting teachers into a common "headspace" about our diverse and complex student population.

In summary, the article makes the point that all kids bring a virtual schoolbag of knowledge, skills and experiences from their home life - but that not all of it has a valued place in our educational system or fits with our preconceived ideas of what is necessary to be a successful learner.

Some children are able to open their school bags when they get to school and make use of what is in there – such as knowledge of the English alphabet, book language, computer experience, and family genealogy. Other children may find that there is little or no way that they can make use of their knowledge and experience – bilingualism, non-English folk music, family small business, sibling care and kitchen duties...

...There are, of course, many possible virtual school bags and many possible educational trajectories as Thomson points out. The problem occurs when some children’s capacities, interests, knowledges and experiences count for little or nothing at school, in comparison to their peers.

This is an important challenge for all teachers but impossible to overlook in a Category One school. If we are serious about personalisation and relevance for students, then working out how to leverage what the student already brings in through the door has to be a priority. That almost always begins with building a positive relationship with the students in one's own classroom. In my new role, that is a much more difficult proposition but I try as much as I can to strike up conversations with students in the yard, on the bus heading off to an excursion, when helping a kid borrow a book in the library or when working side by side with them on their learning. Any snippet that I can notice and enquire about can build that relationship. I've noticed that because I've only been at the school for a term and because I have an official leadership title, kids are surprised if I greet them by name and respond very positively if I can ask a question or make a comment that shows I know more than that. Whether it is an interest in Transformers that I notice, a sibling from another building that I ask about or even enquiring about the ingredients in many of our students' lunchtime Vietnamese rolls, I gaining valuable insight about their "virtual schoolbags".

http://www.flickr.com/photos/codefin/129456093/

Link to the full Virtual Schoolbag article.

 

Bud Hunt on the concept of professional distance:

For the same reason that I set boundaries in my face to face interactions with students, I maintain some sense of professional separation in online spaces. I’d encourage you to consider carefully you and your community’s comfort as you intentionally choose the public faces of your online self. And, whatever you decide, please communicate it to the students and families in your care. Make sure your administrators know what — and where and how — you’re doing.

My response:

Bud, a number of teachers I work with use Facebook as their main entry point onto the internet and they treat it very much in the way that more experienced social media experts warn us that our students are using it – to let off steam, to let their hair down – without realising that it is not just their close circle of friends who may be watching. They would argue that it is their right to treat Facebook as part of their private, non-school life without being bound by a higher behaviour code than their non-school acquaintances and family members. So party pics, expletive laden comments and membership of dodgy “likes” still abound in their accounts – it makes it hard to be giving out advice to students about “be careful about what you post” when they don’t see that everything posted onto this one site is forming a very comprehensive digital footprint. But then again, for a few teachers teaching is just a job, not a calling, so naively believing that one can separate one’s private from professional in the digital world is probably not surprising.

It always seems unfair to hold educators to higher levels of conduct than the general population, especially when it doesn't seem to make much difference to the public perceptions of the profession. But we are in a different era now. Kids used to think that teachers lived at the school and had no private life. But now without some carefully considered lines drawn in the sand, kids now have access to anything that an educator chooses to post online. Saying that one is entitled to a private life doesn't make a lot of sense if you don't actually take some measures to keep it private. We all know Facebook is the least private place going around.

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Tonight's learner PD was using Google Maps to create a story. Here's the link to the story I created as the example and stimulus for my small group of keen learners.


View My Journey As An Educator in a larger map

I was thinking that this could be a great tool for so many things - great for SOSE, mapping locations from stories, creating narratives, histories, mathematical journeys etc. This has been blogged thoroughly by the talented Silvia Tolisano, and this project could also kick start some great story telling and learning. I could imagine some powerful stories from my school's multicultural student population tracing their family's journey to Adelaide - although many have histories that may not be pleasant to re-visit so sensitivity is always required. An upper primary colleague now wants me to work with her class using Google Maps. I like the look of the Map Maker as well, especially as it comes with plenty of self help documentation. And if I knew how to create the required XML file, then something like Map My Life would be possible.

I was asked today by one of my new colleagues about whether I was enjoying my new job. I told her that I was enjoying it very much - the opportunity to take on a more substantive leadership role, to be involved in a totally different school environment and to put some of my experience and ideas to good use. I haven't been in a Category 1 (highest level of disadvantage) school since I taught in Port Augusta in the early nineties. I've never been in a school that is essentially brand new. So, even in the middle of the eighth week, I'm still absorbing a lot of new learning and noticing things.

We have a lot of teachers who haven't been teaching for a long time. Some are young but quite a few moved into teaching later in life. A reasonable number of these have only ever taught at a Category 1 school. Lesson for me: don't assume that everyone can draw on the same depth of experience that I have but because there are many more complex and challenging students here, I have plenty to learn from my new colleagues' shorter time span of experiences.

Cross platform networks are complex and there is always something that needs fixing. Be it iMacs that won't print to the photocopiers to under powered Dell Minis that can't really cope with a full Windows 7 image, teachers have to be realistic about the technology and being able to adapt their goals and tasks when using the laptops with students is a necessity. But the kids are platform agnostic - Windows has Publisher that is popular and flexible, while the Macs have GarageBand which is ultra-popular with the upper primary boys and after all, the internet works pretty much the same way on all computers.

The key to working successfully with any students to build a positive relationship first. That is hard in a leadership role so I've tried really hard to connect names to kids and use those names so they know that I'm interested in them as an individual. I get names wrong quite a bit still and am constantly asking my teaching colleagues to clue me in on a name. Unfortunately, sometimes names are easy to remember for the wrong reasons with some of the more challenging students - and it is also important to remember that being an authority figure isn't really something that carries any weight with them. In fact, it can work against me in that regard. I do like the fact that many kids will say hello to me even if on occasion they call me by my predecessor's name!

 

 

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It often takes me a while to get ideas to clarify within my mind. It can be a concept that is crystal clear to others but I need to strain the ideas through a few different sieves before I can articulate the essential gist of a concept. Forgive me if you are in the camp where I'm about to state the blatantly obvious.

I read this post from Chris Betcher back in May, and it stuck in my brain like a prickle in my sock. I'd heard the following sentiments quite a few times before in various blogs all over the web.

I'm so tired of having the integration of technology into learning overlooked because it's "too hard". As educators - actual professional educators, who actually go into classrooms every day and teach for a living - we do NOT have the luxury of choosing whether we should be integrating technology, or whether we want to learn more about it, or whether we think it's relevant to the learning process.  It is, it's part of the job and if people don't think so, then they ought to be getting a copy of the Saturday paper and looking for a something else to do where they CAN be selective about what part of the job they are willing to take seriously without it impacting on our future generations.

There was a lot of "Here, here, well said" comments and it didn't sit well with me. So I added my own counter-rant in the comments section where I felt I was defending my much maligned less tech-savvy colleagues. I ended my rebuttal with the following:

Education is always in constant flux and teachers spend their whole careers in a state of unlearning and re-learning. I know that for every thing I can do well in terms of tech integration with students, there are other teachers with other skills in other areas outdoing me and no one really has the moral high ground.

I got a bit of pushback from a fellow commenter and sought to clarify my thoughts further:

I suppose what provoked my response is that I've read posts like Chris's all over the web, lamenting those incompetents who don't "get it" and I don't think it achieves much more than getting a round of "hear, hears" and a tone of self-righteousness in the comments. Teaching is complex and becoming increasingly more so, and every facet deserves as much focus for our students' futures as technology use for learning. Is everyone here on top of every aspect of their teaching practice? Or will some at least admit that, like myself, there are aspects of our job we are not top of totally, components that are works in progress and parts that we find harder to engage with. Think of those aspects and at least recognise the fact that technology use for learning does not come easily for everyone - and that does immediately label them as being less than worthy educators.

Then Chris replied in a manner that finally turned the switch on in my brain, and I could finally see his post in a different, less oppositional light.

I think you sum it up in your last paragraph when you say "Education is always in constant flux and teachers spend their whole careers in a state of unlearning and re-learning."  For those teachers who accept this state of flux, who willingly learn and unlearn and relearn, I don't think anyone would criticise those efforts. You're absolutely correct in saying that there are MANY aspects of the classroom competing for our attention: staying up to date with current developments in literacy and numeracy, brain theory, learning theory, etc, not to mention staying abreast of information about allergies, child safety legislation, OH&S, etc, etc... teaching is a busy job, there's no argument about that.

My beef is with those that have simply given up, or refuse to do the learning, unlearning and relearning.  It's not really about technology per se, although I think that the requirement to integrate technology is a trigger that brings these attitudes to the surface.  The real issue is that some teachers - who are supposed to be learning professionals - have forgotten what it means to learn, unlearn and relearn.

Chris is dead right of course. Take the technology focus out of the discussion and what is clear that educators need to have a different mindset to be successful and relevant to their students. They must be in a constant state of unlearning and relearning, ready to challenge their established practice, looking for where to go to next, and adopting the very habits we want in our students.

I then read a powerful post from Dean Groom. As can happen on occasion, he was not totally happy with what he had written and he pulled the post from his blog. But it still came through my RSS reader and when I asked him about it, he replied that I was free to remix it as I saw fit. I'll share a few key parts that helped me to understand the unlearning and relearning process that I do see many teachers still struggling with. And it does prove Chris's point because technology tends to show up teachers' learning dispositions clearly. Dean's post was about teachers' learning habits.

I said teachers are engineers and inventors – these are two critical skills of this decade, as trying to design learning episodes that create innovative pedagogy is a little like flying the Millennium Falcon. Nothing quite works all the time and there’s a total sense of urgency about the whole affair with a high possibility of disaster.

The manual is scattered all over the internet in videos, blogs, wikis and people. Most people lack the social keys to decode this, the literacies needed to find it and won’t use their downtime for what they see as work-related actions.

The time allocated to formal workplace development is massively insufficient, and usually lacks any innovation, invention or re-engineering of the experience.

I've  seen this when I conduct PD for teachers. Some only need a point in the general direction and others want you to sit side by side with them as they work out how to sign up to a new online account. It is ironic that I get requests for PD on tools that I've worked out for myself or by using the "scattered manual" that Dean refers to. That's the unlearning and relearning at work there. Teachers who teach their students lock step or via spoonfeeding expect that is how their own learning should work too. I do like the idea of doing the PD as a group where I'll start things off but the idea is to work things out by spinning things off with your neighbours and having an exploratory and playful disposition. I did that last week when I introduced delicious to my new staff (and yes, there are probably hundreds of teachers out there who have never heard of social bookmarking or how it is one tech tool that empowers teachers to learn on their own with others.

Dean also says:

There is a cultural expectation that has been created by 1990s idea of the computer as a ‘tutor’. This gives rise to the idea novices are there to learn ‘how to use’ from an expert. There is an assumptions there will be step by step instructions, that someone will read them to you, that you will attempt to follow and if you don’t succeed, someone will swoop down and move you along. At some point, you will get to decide if you want to use the tool and information in the future. We can’t really call this competency based training, as there is no assessment and therefore no external reward for effort. At best we call it professional development hours, another symptom that teachers are not intrinsically life-long learners, but need a push factor.

I've heard that one too. "Are you doing some ICT PD, Graham, because I need to get some more hours?" Not the best indication of an intrinsic life-long learner but the phrase "life long learning" appears in nearly every school vision statement. And it's an important thing to have there too. Because students will need those skills - but will they get them from a classroom where the person in charge can only talk the talk?

Dean summarises perfectly (to my mind):

A key idea in downtimer learning theory is that the rewards are almost always intrinsic, fuelled by some external motivation. The product of this is the network effect, where social-encoding of knowledge, essential resources and processes become unintelligible to anyone without sufficient keys to access it externally.

So, technology is important because in today's world it is the enabler of learning unfettered by control. When the learner has that freedom, they work things out on their own or with others but they are not dependent on others to provide them with the resolution. With that technology in most people's pocket or purse, there is no reason other than ignorance (unintended or willful) for anyone in the learning game to not be actively in charge of their own learning. And then starting to work out how they ensure that their students have the same options for their own learning within their classrooms.

Post update:

I thought that Dean had written another post illustrating the point I'm trying to make here, but I was wrong. He had referenced another post written by Sarah Thorneycroft and he graciously pointed me back there. Read that for a clarifying example.

 

I really enjoy browsing through video sharing websites, in particular Youtube and Vimeo, but for different reasons. Vimeo is the place to find something new, being a hangout for short film makers and other culturally switched on artists. There are some beautifully crafted videos there - this one was originally tweeted out to me by Christian Long.

Scrapertown from California is a place. on Vimeo.

But YouTube is the place for searching for content on a whim, sating that desire to dredge up an instant blast from the past. Kids today may be used to content on demand but they don't have forty plus years of old television and music memories to trade on. If I recall a childhood cartoon show in conversation with my sons, it is only a click and a search before I can show them who Top Cat was or to see if the Banana Splits really were that funny.

Earlier this year, I recalled a tune from my teenage years with a catchy chorus - The Members "Radio". I hadn't heard the song in years but a quick search located the video clip and I was back in the eighties at boarding school again.

Commercials, documentaries, movie trailers and other forms of broadcast flotsam can be accessed with just a few key words and a memory long enough to create a starting point. Find it, watch it and then check out the sidebar links for other memory jogs that send one back to another point in time. A time when you had to fast forward the cassette tape to get to your favourite song, a time when you had to wait four months before the Australian television station showed that new series from America and a time when Hanna Barbera was still a viable entertainment company.